Thursday, July 21, 2011

Power to Parent Eight

This is the final Power to Parent recap of the DVD series by Dr. Gordon Neufeld. I've loved the feedback I've received from many of you about how helpful these ideas have been. I have seen them radically change my parenting practices, and improve the daily quality of the relationship I have with my children, and for that I am so grateful to Dr. Neufeld for all of his work and research.

This last session provides strategies for imposing order through discipline that will preserve the attachment between parent and child. The root meaning of discipline is to impose order. Kids are naturally chaotic and crave routine and order. All things must be done in a context of connection. It's important to work the relationship, not the behavioural incident. As a parent, ask not what to do, but what context to do it in.

When it comes to resolving conflict, we must make a connection with the child first in order to talk it over. Buying some time is okay. You don't have to rush it. It's best not to parent by shooting from the hip, but instead by becoming conscious and reflective. In the moment, we tend to respond to the urgent, not the important. The incident doesn't need to be fixed urgently as the overall relationship is the priority.

Dr. Neufeld suggests that we impose order primarily through structure and ritual in our home, and not by bossing a child around. Anything that happens regularly in your house, make it a tradition and a routine which can be counted on. This brings order to the environment. This involves having a regular structure for homework time, screen and TV time which can be counted on, sitting down to regular meals, etc. If we pay attention to what is causing problems for our kids, we can often solve it by adjusting the routine (i.e. too much screen time and not enough connecting time).

Aim to change a mind instead of behaviour. Values don't internalize through consequences (you are using the child's values instead of sowing the seeds of your own). Intentions are the starting point for behaviour. Be proactive, not reactive. This is a long-term plan, not short-term. Having mixed feelings is important to learn self control. Our job is to help our kids want to do things, but we must teach this.

This whole work of soliciting good intentions is in the relationship. The access to the mind is through the heart - if we have their heart, we have their mind. Solicit a good intention before an incident occurs by preparing the child for what is going to be required. You are doing a sales job here, try to get the nod and the eye contact. Ask your child, "Can I count on you to try this?" then when it occurs, give a knowing wink and a smile, showing you are together, helping each other.

Line a child up with his intentions, not his behaviour. This stays away from being adversarial. Getting the child to agree that they could have done better gives you something tender to work with. Keep the tone friendly. You don't want your child to abandon their good intentions. It's important to be supportive in this process. Discipline is about being on the same side as the child, not existing as adversaries.

Draw out mixed feelings instead of demanding self control. This is an integration process with two different feelings in the mix, pushing and pulling the child in two different directions (i.e. "I'm excited to go on a sleepover but afraid to be away from you for the night"). It's important to parent from our own mixed feelings. We need to invite ourselves and our kids to feel everything there is to feel. The secret of self control is adding in emotions, not taking them away.

When the feelings are intense, they need to come down in temperature before you mix them. Work around the edges. Get your child to feel this, but also that, so they have two things at once to temper how they feel. Conflict is the heart of growth. We tend to want certainty in our society, but we need to look at the other side of every emotion to find the equilibrium of the situation. Most of our discipline happens in the infrastructure: what's under the behaviour are the emotions, and that's where we need to work.

Aim for sadness when a child is up against futility. Keep the image of the maze in your mind, and where the child cannot adapt, they must accept the futility and reach the still point of acceptance. Adaptation is not cerebral, but is about emotional learning. Be patient. This is nature's discipline process. Don't distract. Let it sink in. Most of the work here is in debriefing the situation with the child.

Take control through changing the circumstances, especially when unable to change the child. You can't control a child who is not in control of themselves. When it's not working, don't shout louder or offer more commands. Walk your own maze, feel the futility, be sad, reach the still point, and then go in another direction: "Hey, I know, let's leave this and go outside and look for butterflies." Walk the maze in parenting when it's not working. Find another way.

Script the actions of the immature to buy some time for the child to grow up. We often say, "Grow up" or "act your age" but you cannot command maturity. We must accept where our children are at and recognize that they have a right to immaturity as they are still growing. We are the adults and should be more mature than our children. We must model this and show them the way.

Scripting their actions is like directing a play and getting a performance from an actor who is not as mature as the role demands that they be. We must give cues to our children and collect them so that they are following. Don't say what not to do, but give positive cues: "This is how to hold a baby/pet a cat/ask someone for help." It's like a game of follow the leader. Give commands that they can actually follow.

We must hold on to our children until they can hold on to themselves. I have imposed more order and routine on my kids so they know what to expect, and this has helped with discipline. I have also added in more scripting, and been aware of the need to solicit a good intention and get them on the same side that I am on. I've learned to be more patient and see the relationship as more important than the behavioural incident we are working through. This DVD course has changed the way I parent for the better, and I am so grateful to Dr. Gordon Neufeld.

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